Cocoa Vintage is less than a year old as a jewellery line, but the quality of the execution in one of these pieces by Crystal Antoine could easily fool anybody into thinking she’s been doing this for years.
Already a painter and graphic designer, Crystal added jewellery-making to her list of skills and achievements following a short course at the CAFD in Trinidad.
‘It was one of my electives and I immediately fell in love and wanted to do more. It felt like this is what had been missing all along, so – at the end of the course – I went ahead and did some online research and bought a lot of books on how to make jewellery. The rest came naturally…’
And natural is the best way to describe Cocoa Vintage, where the beautiful pieces are undoubtedly inspired by the various elements of nature, found both on land and at sea, not to mention the name of the line itself. Crystal says she was always in love with the cocoa pod – the way it looks, the textures, the various colours and stages of growth, as well as the process involved in making the magnificent product of chocolate.
‘It also symbolizes my own jewellery through the various stages – different surprises, different textures… and a sweet outcome! The ‘vintage’ part of the name was chosen because it means to have character or certain uniqueness. Hence Cocoa Vintage.’
Her source of inspiration is endless and she uses the Caribbean as a major part of her creative process, such as in the cocoa pod earrings [pictured below]. Greatly inspired by her homeland of Trinidad & Tobago, Crystal created these earrings with the aim of targeting tourists, art lovers and nature lovers alike.
However, so many others have fallen in love with this particular piece that she firmly believes that ‘we no longer have to settle for hum drum pieces of batik fabric or steel pan sculptures, as great as they are in their own right. I believe I’m bringing more options to the table and jazzing it up a little bit more.’
Indeed, she is. The jewellery is colourful yet elegant, with some truly sophisticated pieces interspersed with more playful, youthful work, making the appeal of Crystal’s designs reach even further in terms of target market. The materials used to create a Cocoa Vintage piece range from silver and other metals, to natural ornaments – such as beads – and even clay, which she lists as one of her favourites.
‘I use polymer clay for most of my pieces, which I sculpt. It has to be baked and treated and then dries very hard but lightweight – almost like plastic. I feel so in touch with my work when I am moulding, sculpting and painting the shapes. The cocoa pod earrings are made of this clay, but not bake-able; it has to be air-dried, so each earring is hand-sculpted and hand-painted…’
How’s that for a personal touch? What is even more admirable is that Crystal still makes the time to work in this very intimate manner – as opposed to creating in bulk – even though Cocoa Vintage is not her full-time occupation. Currently working full-time in advertising, she lists time as an obstacle in her jewellery making, although she would love to eventually follow her passion full-time. She also faced the challenge of adequately pricing her work for potential customers, not wanting to overprice, yet at the same time not wanting to undervalue her hard work.
‘As an artist you have to tell yourself that this is your craft; your time and your design work have gone into these pieces so in one way, its priceless… but as a business point, you have to look at certain elements like the fact that it is handmade. It makes all the difference. The way I see it, if someone really likes a piece, the price is irrelevant.’
Another challenge is being able to find the adequate materials locally, and most of the time Crystal keeps herself well stocked with supplies bought online. She once approached a popular boutique in Trinidad’s Piarco Airport about selling her pieces but was told by the owner that it would be cheaper for the boutique to buy jewellery from China and then sell it. Interesting to hear (and disappointing!), considering the boutique claims to sell locally-made Caribbean products and souvenirs that may very well have nothing at all to do with the Caribbean in the end.
The Cocoa Vintage process is a mélange of planning a collection and picking a theme and a dash of spontaneity – allowing the pieces to evolve as they come into being. Never without her sketchbook, Crystal is always ready to note down ideas, such as for the upcoming Under the Sea collection, inspired by trip to Tobago. She is also currently sketching ideas towards a wedding collection, yet to be named, but ‘it’s going to be a combination of quirky elegance and artsy whimsical fantasy!’
‘The pressure is always on to come up with ideas that will keep people’s attention and keep your work looking fresh and new. As an artist, you have to do everything within your power to stay current, educated and on your toes. I try not to take my environment for granted because there is still so much to learn and so many places to travel to!’
The Cocoa Vintage line is on Facebook, be sure to have a look at:
Images courtesy Crystal Antoine